What is limerence?

Limerence is not a widely known concept. In a not-entirely-scientific poll (I asked some people I know), 0.0% of my peer group had heard of the term. So, it’s good to give a clear definition.

Limerence was coined as a term and concept by Dorothy Tennov in her 1979 book “Love and Limerence”, and emerged from her study of romantic love.

02-2017-love-and-limerence-by-dorothy-tennov

Wisdom within. Plus an endorsement by Simone de Beauvoir ffs!

It mostly took the form of interviews and questionnaires, in which Tennov noted a number of consistent traits among many individuals who described their experiences of being in love. She defined limerence as a new term to encompass the features of this common experience. They are (paraphrasing and simplifying slightly):

  • Frequent intrusive thoughts about the limerent object (LO), who is a potential sexual partner.
  • An acute need for reciprocation of equally strong feeling.
  • Exaggerated dependency of mood on LO’s actions: elation when sensing reciprocation, devastation when sensing disinterest.
  • Inability to react limerently to more than one person at a time.
  • Fleeting relief from unrequited feeling through vivid fantasy about reciprocation by the LO.
  • Insecurity or shyness when in the presence of the LO, often manifesting in overt physical discomfort (sweating, stammering, racing heart).
  • Intensification of feelings by adversity.
  • An aching sensation in “the heart” when uncertainty is strong.
  • A general intensity of feeling that leaves other concerns in the background.
  • A remarkable ability to emphasize the positive features of the LO, and minimise, or empathise with, the negative.
  • I would also add to Tennov’s list: a desire for exclusivity.

Interestingly, when describing these traits to the same people that I queried about “limerence” as a term, the responses seemed to split into two general camps:

“That’s just love. You don’t need a special word for that.”

“Don’t be silly. Nobody really feels like that; it’s childish.”

This of course fits with Tennov’s core thesis: that people can be understood as fundamentally different in their experience of love. As limerents and non-limerents. (Either, of course, can be “limerent objects”, which really is an apt coinage. Limerence is projected onto the recipient of desire; they become a screen for the movie that is playing out in the mind of the limerent. They are treated as an object, not a human being seen in their full complexity).

But as with all things worth studying, there is more complexity and subtlety once you start to investigate more deeply. A defining feature of limerence, which probably does separate it from “puppy love” or “a crush”, is the involuntary nature of the experience once it has taken hold. I think this is most readily understood in the case of intrusive thoughts. “Oh I daydream all the time about him” doesn’t really get close to the invasive, relentless and compulsive nature of limerent rumination. You can’t turn it off. You can’t read a book, because every other sentence triggers a thought-bridge back to Them, and that’s it: concentration is impossible. You can’t listen to music, because all songs are about Them. You can’t seem to have a conversation with someone else without finding yourself mentioning Them in relation to… well, anything. They become the central force of gravity in your life. A black hole of attraction.

Urgh, sounds awful; but that’s the other weird feature: it isn’t. Certainly not at first. Mutual limerence experienced by two individuals free to express their feelings is, of course, surpassingly blissful – the “ecstatic union” described by Simone de Beauvoir and inspiration for uncountable numbers of poems and songs. But even in times of uncertainty or adversity, the sensation of limerence can be highly pleasurable in itself. The rush of excitement at the perception of mutual attraction. The thrill of power and hope when you make LO laugh. The intoxicating sense of buoyancy when in the presence of a happy LO.

And intoxication really is the best word I can think of to capture the sensational overload that comes with limerence. Love intoxication. It’s addictive. Like a junkie, limerents indulge themselves whenever they get a chance. “Oh good, a moment alone. I can have a nice fantasy about LO”. “I normally take that route home, but if I take this small diversion in completely the opposite direction I may just happen to bump into LO”. “I better just text LO about this important bit of trivia….. Yes! They’ve responded!” But like any other addiction, after a while the exquisite spike of pleasure can devolve into a habit, and then a craving, and then an impediment to the proper, healthy sources of happiness and fulfillment in life.

So, on the principle that the blissed-out mutual limerents are too distracted to bother with reading a blog like this, I’m going to focus most of my posts on trying to understand limerence as a phenomenon, with the goal of devising means for enjoying it as an addictive stimulant to be indulged in at the appropriate times to the appropriate degree. I do believe that limerence can add vivid colour to life, without compromising the pursuit of meaningful happiness.

6 thoughts on “What is limerence?

  1. “The thrill of power and hope when you make LO laugh. The intoxicating sense of buoyancy when in the presence of a happy LO.”

    In my case, when my parents divorced as a kid, I would tell my mother jokes to get her to stop crying. I remember it being marginally successful.

    When I started corresponding with LO #4, I had at least 4 emails from her that said she was crying or had been crying and I made her feel better. She would tell me how kind I was. Add to that that she appeared to like what I had to offer and I was off to the races. The therapist explained I was seeking out an emotionally corrective experience and when it appeared to be working, it strengthened the attraction and formed an attachment. At its height, it was almost like there were two distinct aspects to my personality. There was the adult side saying, “What the heck are you doing? This is not good for you.” On the other side was this little kid pushing the adult out of the way and saying, “I got this! We’ve seen this before and we can handle it.” The cognitive dissonance caused no small amount of anxiety.

    I don’t remember LO #1 reminding me of my mother but LOs #2-#4 did.

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  2. This condition has destroyed any chance of an actual relationship developing between myself and the men I’ve dated that I’ve wanted to build a relationship with. The thoughts/ obsessions/ preoccupation with worrying about whether my feelings are reciprocated…it’s so stressful and overwhelming. But the worst part is that I recognize it but still can’t control the intrusive thoughts! They drive me crazy! I don’t want to have them. I want to be able to develop a relationship like a normal adult. Does anyone know if there is a medication for this condition? I’ve been in therapy for years and I’ve done the work of developing a true identity of my own…but that hasn’t helped with the intrusive thoughts that take over when I get involved with a man.

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    • Intrusive thoughts certainly can be crazy making – I think most limerents can relate to that! Great to hear you have been working with a therapist on developing your true identity. That was the critical factor for me in getting through my last limerence episode, and kind of the theme of this blog: purposeful living as the route to overcoming self-sabotage during limerence. I am curious about what you have tried to deal with the intrusive thoughts? Has your therapist recommended anything that helped (CBT?). In terms of medication, obviously any decisions should only be made in consultation with a medical professional, but I have heard of people struggling with obsessive compulsive disorder who are also limerent and medication for their OCD (usually antidepressants) being useful for limerence thoughts too. But, as I say, absolutely not something to dabble in without professional advice.

      Ultimately, the goal is to break the negative habit of rumination and replace it with a new habit of positive thought. Slow, steady work that essentially means reprogramming your thought patterns. If the intrusive thoughts are too debilitating, this might call for clinical support – something to discuss with your therapist and GP (if in UK).

      Good luck and best wishes,

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  3. If you’ve been in therapy for years with no effect, you may want to try a different therapist before turning to medications. Medications may be what is necessary but you may want to explore other options first.

    Have you and your therapist ever discussed your particular attachment style? Having dealt with several therapists about several subjects over the years, there’s a few things about them. Some are better than others. They have biases and weaknesses just like their patients. A lot of therapists tend to treat symptoms as opposed to causes which means you’ll never solve the problem. It’s like painting over a rust spot.

    If you’re willing to try something, I recommend you Google Shari Schreiber and start with her first article. If what she has to say resonates with you, read some of her other stuff. If what she says seems to fit, find a therapist who specializes in working with trauma survivors.

    Confronting this kind of thing can be hard and ugly but if you really want to be happy, you may have to. To paraphrase Marion Solomon, when some people enter therapy they don’t really want to solve the problem, they want to become comfortable in their current pathology,

    It’s not too great a stretch between worrying about reciprocation and a fear of abandonment.

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  4. When I have too much time on my hands, my mind starts to wander. It started wandering in the relationship between Attachment Theory and Limerence, specifically, can Limerence be explained in terms of Attachment Theory. At a superficial level, Attachment Theory supports Limerence pretty well. Take Tenov’s list of traits. How would Attachment Theory relate?

    -Frequent intrusive thoughts about the limerent object (LO), who is a potential sexual partner. – Establishing an attachment. How do I get and keep this person’s attention?

    – An acute need for reciprocation of equally strong feeling. – Confirming/Validating a potential attachment (“Do They Like Me Too?)

    – Exaggerated dependency of mood on LO’s actions: elation when sensing reciprocation, devastation when sensing disinterest. – Is the attachment thriving or being threatened.

    – Inability to react limerently to more than one person at a time. – Exclusivity of the attachment (?)

    – Fleeting relief from unrequited feeling through vivid fantasy about reciprocation by the LO. – Deriving pleasure from the attachment (Gotta think about something, after all)

    – Insecurity or shyness when in the presence of the LO, often manifesting in overt physical discomfort (sweating, stammering, racing heart). – Will your presence enhance or degrade the attachment.

    – Intensification of feelings by adversity. – Protecting or strengthening the attachment

    – An aching sensation in “the heart” when uncertainty is strong. – Another indicator of threat to the attachment. This can feel quite enlivening.

    – A general intensity of feeling that leaves other concerns in the background. – An indicator of the overwhelming nature of the attachment (you are addicted to this person.)

    – A remarkable ability to emphasize the positive features of the LO, and minimise, or empathise with, the negative. – Rationalization for establishing/maintaining the LE

    – I would also add to Tennov’s list: a desire for exclusivity. – You don’t want anybody else to share the LO. This plays into jealousy. By definition, you can only be jealous of something you’ve laid claim to or attached to that’s being threatened by someone else.

    Of my 4 LEs, I attached to 3 of the LOs. LO #3, offered no reciprocation, which offered no hope and consequently, I didn’t attach to her. So, for me, what distinguishes a PLO from an actual LO was whether I attached to her. This is consistent with no crystallization of the second phase of limerence.

    This leads to the next question. Are some attachment styles more prone to limerence than others? If you take the two tribes, what are the attachment style profiles for each of them? Is the percentage of non-limerents with secure attachment styles more or less than the the percentage of limerents with secure attachment styles? Or, does it matter, at all?

    Thanks for letting me ramble.

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  5. Wow, I never knew what the hell was wrong with me and why on earth I wasn’t able to love without being in so much emotional pain at the same time. Now I finally know that it was limerence of what I was suffering whenever I fell in love. Actually, I am going through a severe limerence episode right now and that’s why I started googling and FINALLY I found something that makes me feel a little less crazy. So thanks for that!

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